Injured by a government employee or agency?
Our Texas-based FTCA attorneys are national advocates for individuals filing a tort claim against the federal government.
The federal government is a massive organization that employs an estimated 2.1 million civilian employees nationally, according to government statistics. That’s nearly the population of Houston. This army of federal government workers and public servants is employed by over 450 agencies in a wide variety of roles, from administrative and clerical work to military service members and postal workers.
While many people associate the federal government with Washington, D.C., the reality is that a vast majority—85 percent—of federal employees work outside our nation’s capital. In fact, in Texas alone, there are over 130,000 federal employees—the approximate population of the city of Waco—which equates to more than 7 percent of the state’s total workforce.
Many folks don’t realize just how big Uncle Sam is. To better understand how massive and complex the federal government is, consider this list of some of the biggest federal agencies:
- Department of Defense (DoD)
- Postal Service (USPS)
- Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
- Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- Department of Justice (DoJ)
- Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)
- Social Security Administration (SSA)
- Department of Agriculture
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
- Department of Education
- Department of Transportation
- Department of Labor
- Department of Energy
- Department of the Interior
- Department of Commerce
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
- Department of the Treasury
With such an enormous workforce and complex bureaucratic system, it’s inevitable that federal agencies and employees often get wrapped up in civil (personal injury) torts caused by negligence just like members of the general public. When tort claims involve the federal government, many plaintiffs are surprised to learn that there are different rules, procedures and deadlines that apply. For this reason, it’s essential to seek legal counsel from an experienced federal tort attorney.
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What is the Federal Tort Claims Act?
The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) was enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Truman in 1946 “to provide for increased efficiency in the legislative branch of the Government.” The FTCA establishes rules and procedures that allow private U.S. citizens to sue the United States government for torts committed by federal employees and agencies.
Prior to the FTCA, the U.S. government had what is known as “sovereign immunity,” meaning the federal government and its employees were immune from civil court litigation. Therefore, this Act represents a limited waiver of sovereign immunity regarding torts against the government.
Passage of the FTCA is generally attributed to a tragic accident in 1945 when a U.S. Air Force B-25 Mitchell bomber crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building while flying in thick fog. Fourteen people were killed. The U.S. government offered compensation to the victims and their families, but instead some filed a lawsuit against the government. This ultimately led to the passage of the FTCA in 1946, which gave Americans the right to sue the federal government for the first time.
Exceptions to the FTCA’s waiver of sovereign immunity
Though this waiver of sovereign immunity provided by the FTCA is significant, it is limited in its scope. There are a number of exceptions that invalidate federal torts and reinstate sovereign immunity. Some of the most notable and commonly applied exceptions include:
- The Discretionary Function Exception. This especially broad exception preserves government immunity when a federal employee’s actions “involve the exercise of judgment or choice.” Historically, this exception has most commonly been applied to avoid liability in tort claims arising from exposure to toxic materials (asbestos, Agent Orange, etc.), radiation and HIV.
- The Intentional Tort Exception. When a federal employee (except for a law enforcement officer) acts intentionally to injure a plaintiff through action or inaction, this exception may be applied to prevent torts against the government. Instead, plaintiffs may be able to pursue a civil claim against the at-fault individual for battery, assault, false imprisonment, libel, slander, deceit or another intentional act.
- The Foreign Country Exception. Any federal torts that arise in a foreign country may be banned under this exception.
- The Independent Contractor Exception. Generally, government agencies cannot be sued for the actions of an independent contractor the agency hired, unless you can prove that the contractor was treated like an actual employee.
- The Combatant Activities Exception. There are a couple of exceptions that apply exclusively to torts arising from military activities. The first—the Combatant Activities Exception—preserves sovereign immunity when a claim arises out of “combatant activities of the military or naval forces, or the Coast Guard, during time of war.” This exception is supported by the Military Claims Act, which only allows active-duty military personnel to recover damages from the federal government for property damage, personal injury, death and malpractice caused by military personnel in non-combatant activities.
- The Feres Doctrine. The second FTCA exception, known as the Feres Doctrine, was enacted by the Supreme Court to ban federal torts when injuries to military servicemembers “arise out of or are in the course of activity incident to [military] service.”
There are other limitations to the FTCA that can affect a plaintiff’s legal standing to seek compensation from the federal government. Due to the complex nature of torts against the federal government, as well as the many caveats and exceptions to the FTCA that might apply, it’s imperative that you consult with an FTCA attorney as soon as possible if you’re considering filing an injury claim against the federal government.
Types of federal tort claims
Some of the most common types of federal torts we handle include:
Active-duty and civilian patients who suffer harm due to medical negligence or malpractice by a healthcare provider at a military base or military medical facility can seek compensation under the FTCA.
Veterans who are injured or become ill due to substandard care at a VA hospital or medical facility may seek restitution under FTCA for medical negligence. Such claims have special rules and procedures.
Active-duty service members and other military personnel can seek compensation if they are injured while operating a vehicle owned by the U.S. government—including military vehicles and postal trucks— in the course of employment.
Medical malpractice FTCA claims commonly arise when a provider at one of the thousands of clinics nationwide that get funding from HHS acts negligently or provides substandard care.
Individuals who are injured on federal government property (such as a federal courthouse, office building, or post office) due to negligence of a government employee may be able to recover damages.
If you are seriously hurt by a federal employee who is working for a government agency or entity (DoD, USPS, HHS, ICE, etc.), then you can file a federal tort claim against the federal agency through the FTCA.
If civilians are injured by a vehicle driven by an employee of the federal government (such as a military officer or postal worker), then you can file a claim for compensation under the FTCA.
Any type of unintentional injury caused by negligence falls under the FTCA if the at-fault individual suffers injury, property damage or death because of a federal employee or agency.
These are just a few examples of many federal torts possible under the FTCA. If your case falls under the umbrella of the FTCA in any capacity, contact us to learn about your rights and find out how we can serve you.
Compensation and damage caps for federal torts
Under the FTCA, plaintiffs can seek compensation from the federal government for injury to or loss of property, or personal injury or death. Injured parties can recover both economic and non-economic compensatory damages.
- Economic damages include compensation for financially-based losses that have a clear and measurable monetary value. Common examples include property damage, medical expenses, hospital bills, healthcare treatment, rehabilitation and therapy, as well as lost wages and loss of future income.
- Non-economic damages are more challenging to prove because this category includes compensation for injuries that cannot be easily verified or measured with receipts and financial states but have a significant cost to a victim’s life nevertheless, such as pain and suffering, impairment, disfigurement and scarring, as well as loss of enjoyment of life and loss of consortium.
Can I get pain and suffering under the Federal Tort Claims Act?
Yes. Since pain and suffering is categorized as a type of compensatory damage, you can generally obtain compensation for these injuries in an FTCA claim against the government.
What about punitive damages?
Notably, the FTCA does NOT allow plaintiffs to obtain punitive damages against the federal government. Punitive damages are applied in personal injury claims between civilians in order to punish the defendant for grossly negligent conduct; however, such damages are not allowed in federal torts.
How much compensation can I get?
Each state has its own limits (“caps”) on damages, so where you choose to file your tort against the federal government can have a big impact on how much compensation you may ultimately receive. So if you file your federal tort in Texas, for example, that state’s personal injury damage caps would apply.
If you suffer an injury due to the negligent actions of a federal government employee in Texas (or any other government agency that is not a state, city or emergency service entity), the cap for every person involved is $100,000 and $300,000 for a single event.
Federal Tort Claims Act procedure
In a standard personal injury lawsuit against a private citizen, most plaintiffs begin the legal process by hiring an attorney, filing a complaint with the appropriate local civil court and serving the defendant. However, federal tort claims are more administrative and there are more steps to take before a lawsuit can be filed—a process known as “exhausting your administrative remedies.”
Before filing a federal tort lawsuit, first you will need to file an administrative claim with the appropriate federal agency or department responsible for the alleged negligence. For instance, if you were hit by a car driven by an FBI agent, you would submit a claim with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. If you slipped and fell in a post office, you would file a claim with the USPS.
In this administrative claim, you will typically be asked to fill out a form that specifies the facts of your case and how much money you are requesting. While not required, the easiest way to file an administrative claim is by using the federal government’s Standard Form 95 (or SF 95). You can download this form here, or request a copy from the federal agency that you will be submitting your claim to.
Once your administrative claim is filed with the appropriate agency, the federal agency has 6 months to respond by either admitting your claim (agreeing that your claim is valid and paying some or all of your requested amount) or rejecting it (refuting the validity of your claim and refusing to pay damages).
If the federal agency rejects your claim or you don’t agree with the amount they agree to pay, then you usually have 6 months from this notice to file a lawsuit against the government. If you don’t receive a ruling on your administrative claim within the 6-month period, you are free to proceed with your lawsuit to pursue damages in a United States District Court near you and should consult with a federal tort attorney. At this point, you have exhausted your administrative remedies.
What is the statute of limitations in FTCA cases?
Generally, you have 2 years from the date of the cause of injury to file an administrative claim with the appropriate federal agency.
That said, some states have a shorter time period to file a claim against the government, such as within 1 year or 6 months. In addition, the exact date of the cause of injury may be up for debate in some cases, which is why it’s vital to file a claim as soon as possible before the deadline expires in your case against the government.
How do federal torts differ from other civil claims?
Federal tort attorney
Federal torts differ from personal injury lawsuits against private citizens in several distinctly important ways. For starters, the steps to submitting a claim are more complicated and the deadlines may be shorter. What’s more, the damages you can seek are different depending on where you live and what agency is involved.
My clients often feel exhausted and overwhelmed by all of the bureaucratic loopholes they have to jump through. My mission is simple: to expedite the tort process, take care of the administrative paperwork, explain your legal options and help you seek justice from an individual or agency.
Why hire a federal tort lawyer
By now, we hope you have a better understanding of the many unique complexities, requirements, limitations and exceptions that make filing a tort against the federal government more challenging than most cases. Wherever you are in the federal tort claims process, we can help. If your administrative claim was rejected, if the agency is offering a low-ball settlement or even if you haven’t started the process, we can help.
One question you might have is:
How much does it cost to hire a federal tort lawyer?
You should know that federal law limits how much FTCA attorneys can charge as fees for their services. The cap on legal fees for federal torts is 20 percent of an administrative settlement or 25 percent of a judgment or negotiated settlement.
If you have questions about filing an FTCA claim and suing the government for negligence, we strongly encourage you to contact our federal tort attorneys today. We are standing by to protect your rights and fully prepared to pursue negotiation and litigation if necessary. From our office in Waco, Texas, we represent clients in federal torts nationwide.